What draws a writer to a genre? (Why I chose fantasy)

laskenayI got to thinking today: what draws a writer to a genre? Is it the thought of a challenge? Of exploring something new? Is it that the familiarity of favorite reading material gives one the comfort and security to write in that genre (whatever it is) despite doubts and a lack of confidence?

I’m sure it varies from one writer to another, from one personality type to another. Some writers dabble in different genres, while others stick with one for their entire careers, over the span of years.

I can only speak for myself when it comes to this topic: I have written five novels, all leaning toward fantasy or blatant fantasy. None take place in the real world, all but one involves magic, and all involve a culture rather like the Renaissance or late Middle Ages in terms of technology. I always say I would like to branch out, try my hand at writing something set in the real world, but to this point, it’s been fantasy all the way. I have a trilogy and the start of a second in that genre already.

Why did I choose the genre I did? I think there are a lot of reasons.

  • Magic. Magic is a big one. I love stories about magic, and I’ve always thought it would be the coolest thing ever to be able to fly like Peter Pan (which was one of my favorite movies as a kid.) My first novel is the only one I’ve written that didn’t involve magic. And a large part of me thinks that’s the reason it doesn’t really hold together. It’s missing something. It needs something to draw away from the melodrama that it is.
  • Harry Potter. I can credit J.K. Rowling for introducing me to fantasy my freshman year of high school, in January 2000. I was hooked on the Harry Potter books from the very first one. Soon I dreamed of writing stories that might touch people to the core the way hers touched me. Her world was so expansive, so familiar and yet different from my own. Her characters absolutely enthralled me; they were so mysterious, but also, I felt somehow that I related to them. I read each book after that first one the day it came out, and I remember reading “Half Blood Prince” particularly (I got my copy before my sister got hers, and she was as obsessed with the books as me, so we read the first couple of chapters together, sitting on her bed, until one of her friends brought her copy to the house. I read faster, and I got really annoyed at having to wait for my sister to catch up each time before I could turn the page.)
  • Escapism. I have always used reading as an escape from the real world. While any genre can function for that, I think fantasy works particularly well for me in that regard because there is such a distancing from my world and what I’m reading. When I started writing, that drive to “escape,” so to speak, stayed with me. So I chose fantasy.

I wonder if I ever will take the plunge and try something else…. I had an idea a while back for an absurdist piece about New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina, as I’m from there and love the area. Never wrote it, though, beyond a few pages. For now, I’m a fantasy girl, and I’m okay with that. It fulfills the creative drive in me. It quenches what thirst for adventure I have. Maybe a time will come when it no longer does so and I’ll scratch that itch to explore other possibilities, but for now, I’m excited at the prospect of final edits to my first trilogy (book 3), beginning to edit book 1 of the second, and seeing where else that story can take me.

So, you fellow writers: why do you write in your respective genres? Have you experimented with others? What were the results? I’d love to chat about this. Everyone approaches these decisions so differently when it comes time to start designing a new project!

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19 responses to “What draws a writer to a genre? (Why I chose fantasy)

  1. Escapism and magic are my two reasons too!

  2. I love fantasy too, but I like it in an awfully analytical way. Magic and escapism are cool, that’s for sure — but my favourite magical worlds are the ones that really seem like believable systems with solid worldbuilding. It’s like the delight of watching an elaborate pattern of dominoes fall. And I also like the way fantasy can make us wonder about the nature of our own world, or the choices we’ve made as a society. Sci-fi does that, too, but fantasy can get away with more mysteriousness and whimsical happenings.

  3. I think that you are right about it starting in childhood. My love for mystery began from a very early age. My best friend Alyson and I used to sit on each side of her mother and we would take turns reading aloud from Nancy Drew books. We must have been about 7 or 8 at the time. As I got older I became a huge fan of Agatha Christie books. It was Agatha that influenced me to write mysteries. I also became a big fan of Harlan Cobin, Dean Koontz and Stephen King. Maybe that is why my debut novel is a mystery but set with a ghost as a major character, (but not the protagonist). I love the paranormal element. I know it is early yet, but I have always been fascinated with ghosts too, and throw in a little horror along the way..although my ghost for my first book isn’t scary..at least I don’t think she’ll be.. 🙂

    • oh my gosh, I fell in love with Christie and Poirot in 8th grade. Read every single Poirot story and novel she wrote!!! I love mystery. I’m just not creative enough to write it

      • Have you read the Stephen R. Donaldson series, with Thomas Covenant, a leper? I had never read fantasy until I read these, and he is excellent! If you haven’t, you should check them out..really good!

  4. Fantasy — and for the same reasons as you 🙂 Which is odd, considering my first published work is Sci-Fi … How bizarre.

    • that’s cool! I’ve always though fantasy and sci-fi can have a lot in common, though. I guess that’s why they’re often grouped together, though they are distinct in their way as well

  5. Michelle Roberts

    My fantasy fetish started in 8th grade when my mom suggested I read The Hobbit. I had just devoured the Chronicles of Narnia, but Tolkien gets all the blame (credit?) for hooking me on fantasy. I write YA fantasy because I couldn’t find any in my local library when I was in school.

    And I love the magic too. 🙂

  6. My genre of choice is medieval fiction/fantasy. My dad was big into the medieval times when I was growing up. However, he was huge into horror also. The medieval times, for me, ring a certain magic of their own without the characters having to practice magic. But you mix the two together and your possibilities are endless. I feel like you are held to less accuracy when writing in a genre where you can essentially just make up your own world. Writing in the here and now, people tend to hold you to a different standard. It has to be accurate to be believable. I did write a children’s mystery book, leaving it open for a series if I so desire. It took me about triple the time to write it because it was modern. Even though I had a blast writing it with my sons as inspiration, it went slower than I had anticipated. It just isn’t quite my thing. In November of last year, I participated in the NaNoWriMo and thought I would spread my wings making a zombie apocalyptic story. I only got 13,000 words down instead of 50,000. Ugh. In December, I was invited to write in an anthology and the theme was folklore/mythology pieces. I decided to write a prequel to my YA fantasy that I have dabbled with. I wrote 20,000 words in about two weeks. I do feel that writing different genres is a great way to become a better writer and experience more events…stretching that category to be interesting even if you aren’t quite comfortable with it. But for me, the medieval times, my world of Elgolan will forever be where my heart rests.

  7. Honestly, I always tell people if I wanted to experience real life, I’d live it. It’s Fiction for me.

    Love the post, by the way. Definitely following this blog!

  8. Reblogged this on judithlesleymarshall and commented:
    A good question. Why do we write what we write? I write fantasy because I like to read fantasy. I also write fantasy to escape the world and poetry to make sense of it.

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